where do we stand? :: Bonhoeffer and Lewis on ethical ground

C.S. Lewis makes several impassioned pleas for the universality of moral instinct in his writings. I’m most familiar with his appeal to the sense of “fairness” in an argument for God’s existence in Mere Christianity, along with his defence of what he calls the “Tao” in The Abolition of Man. At any rate, in both locations, Lewis is appealing to something like conscience or intuition as the ground of ethics. Ethics are built-in. Right and wrong find their foundation in some innate sense within us. That sense is God’s gift, and is ultimately grounded in God’s own moral character.

Of course, acknowledging the lingering wastes of sin in humanity, Lewis argues that our consciences, as well as our inclination to listen to them, are “bent.” We are not whole and healthy, but twisted and shadowy representations of what we were meant to be.

Working on Bonhoeffer’s moral epistemology, it struck me how different the picture that he describes is. For Bonhoeffer, conscience is only the voice of self-defence. Conscience is the tool by which we usurp God’s judgment, and employ it against ourselves and others. With our consciences–our personal knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3)–we alternately declare ourselves righteous and then cast ourselves on to the dung pile. Either way, this is an attempt to shield ourselves from God’s voice rather than God’s voice itself. The natural knowledge of good and evil, is nothing less than captivity to death in Bonhoeffer’s estimation. Continue reading “where do we stand? :: Bonhoeffer and Lewis on ethical ground”

creation is bigger than nature

Reading Jurgen Moltmann’s, God in Creation I came across another way (probably a better way) of saying what I was trying to get at the other day. Once we have a sense of our independence from the world around us, we have a proclivity to wield that independence over our surroundings in relationships of control and domination.

Creation is bigger than nature.

By “nature” we can signify all that is subject to scientific study and, on some level, to human control. The concept of nature is strongly tied to “natural law” so that nature is everything that follows predictable patterns of behavior. Over the last few century’s “nature” has expanded to include not only physical laws like gravity, but (viaDarwin and friends) biological development and behavior. The development of psychology aims to incorporate the human mind into nature as well–the “experimental” and “philosophical” branches attempting to account for the neurological (objective) and existential (subjective) aspects of the mind, respectively. Continue reading “creation is bigger than nature”

personal belief and corporate confession :: creeds and community (part IV)

The last entry thinking about the creeds focused on the relationship between the creeds and scripture. As normative confession, the creeds guide the boundaries of our interpretation of scripture in order to enable us to read scripture well. The creeds stand as a history lesson about God’s people reading God’s word; they are our opportunity to hear and understand the thought of those Christians who down through the generations have passed on the gospel and put the scripture in our hands. We disregard their advice at our own hazard. We cannot even touch scripture until someone gives it to us – and that event (taking the book into our hands) links us to a long chain that reaches back to the roots of our tradition. Any loss of memory constitutes a crisis of identity, but especially an intentional ignorance with regard to tradition.

In this entry however, I’d like to dig into questions about the normative influence of the creeds within the church today – look at how we relate to these ancient documents, and how we are to look at them. How do creeds function within our communities? What do communities that move away from creeds replace them with? Continue reading “personal belief and corporate confession :: creeds and community (part IV)”

zimbabwe’s archbishop speaks out

The following is the text of a BBC article on Zimababwe’s outspoken Roman Catholic archbishop. Ncube (pronounced “N-ts-oo-bay”) is standing against a unjust government in the name of the church and the people of the nation. I’ve mentioned him before.

Zimbabwe crisis ‘threatens lives’

Archbishop Ncube says Zimbabweans are desperate

Archbishop comments
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo Pius Ncube says the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe has reached “life-threatening proportions”.
He accused President Robert Mugabe’s government of not taking responsibility for the deepening crisis.

He says there is almost no fuel in the country, and every day, people are reduced to hunting for a loaf of bread.

The archbishop said it had reached a point where regional political intervention was now needed.

Talks between Zimbabwe’s ruling party and the opposition resumed in South Africa this week, with President Thabo Mbeki responsible for mediating.

‘Megalomaniac’

But Archbishop Ncube said he doubted that President Mugabe would step down as Zimbabwe’s leader, in return for an amnesty deal.

“Mugabe is a man who is a megalomaniac. He loves power, he lives for power. Even his own party are pleading with him – ‘Please stand down, you’ve done enough good’.

“According to Zanu-PF he’s done a lot of good, according to me, he’s done a lot of evil.”

Archbishop Ncube was speaking in Johannesburg as the Solidarity Peace Trust, a church-based non-governmental organisation, launched a new report on the crisis in Zimbabwe.

In its report, the Solidarity Peace Trust, says there has been increasing state repression against dissenting voices since March when many members of the opposition were arrested and beaten.

It also says the governing party in Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF, has lost much of its political legitimacy.

Mr Mugabe blames the worsening economic crisis on a Western plot to remove him from power.

moral (in)formation

The obsession with information in our culture has left us with a situation in which we each choose our own elders and role models.

Previously, your parents, your extended family, or your community would pass lessons on to you about the meaning of life and the proper way to exist in the world. One went through years of an “apprenticeship” watching one’s parents interact with all sorts of people, work in the field or the pasture, distinct from the vocational institution.

These days, we throw kids in front of a television, give them a library card, and put them on the Internet. The flow of information is relentless, and formative. We learn as we grow, but there are so many voices. Out of the cacophony one voice strikes a particular chord, or one piece of advice is particularly poignant. And for the moment, that voice, that advice is our pole star. We may be utterly disconnected from its author, but if it rubs us the right way we take the information to be revelation, and we are prepared to live for the idea.

This leads to the situation where our cultural “wisdom” consists of the patchwork quilts each of us assemble from the endless flow of “good ideas” we come across.

On the one hand it is a relief to think that we haven’t lost the practice of mentorship and eldership altogether. We still pass on wisdom. It’s still important to learn how to live. On the other hand it is disturbing that the whole process is so disconnected – and so individually selective. We listen to the voices that we want to hear and shape our behavior accordingly. Nothing compromises our personal sovereignty. Truth is what I want to hear – what sounds good to me.

the quest for security is the way to war :: peace and wholeness

There is no path to peace by way of security; behind the quest for security there lies the same distrust and defensiveness which is the root cause of war.
Bonhoeffer – 1934

When it becomes controlling, the desire to rest in safety and avoid risks entails violence, even when it comes under the guise of peaceable language. At bottom, it is the desire to be free from others’ impingement upon me – free from their demands, free from their interference, free from their coercion. My longing to spend time in my own backyard and have a nice garden is honorable – right up until it becomes a way to escape my neighbor’s need. Privacy won by exclusion is violence, albeit a more subtle form.

Real peace does not exist apart from real freedom – and real freedom is hard won indeed. But real freedom is not won by weaponry, nor is real peace the absence of threats and interference. Biblical peace is synonymous with wholeness; the freedom that this peace brings is not mere independence. Freedom means the ability to serve and love others; it happens in the midst of relationships, in the midst of vulnerabilities, in the midst of one’s friends and enemies. The idea of freedom as the absence of obligations, demands, and interferences is a lonely path. The trajectory of perfecting that kind of freedom points in the direction of absolute solitude – and hell is the only place where creatures can get as far away from other beings as they might like.
Continue reading “the quest for security is the way to war :: peace and wholeness”

room for humans :: the words of God

Reading Telford Work’s book Living and Active, I’m recognizing the amount of breathing room available within the biblical tradition. We often speak as if there were only one way to be “biblical” people. We imagine that there is one cookie cutter mold for how to be faithful (and not surprisingly, that cookie cutter looks an awful lot like our own silhouette). But even within the Bible there are traditions at tremendous tension with one another, and in the world that Scripture describes, there is room for many different sorts:

Wisdom literature portrays a world where the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer. The wise are blessed and saved, the wicked judged and condemned. God’s mercy is then a kind of converse of God’s justice. The apocalyptic vision turns this conception of salvation on its head. In a world where the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer, one is not saved from God’s eschotological judgemnt. Rather, one is saved from injustice and wrath, through God’s eschatological judgment. God’s justice is itself a dimension of God’s mercy. (159)

There is a breadth to truth that acknowledges the validity of many perspectives. What a relief that God speaks through many voices. The “American Dream” wisdom of Proverbs (work your tail off and you’ll do alright) stands side by side with Daniel’s very different version of wisdom. Daniel reminds us that beastly and inhuman empires have their way on the earth only for a time, but that in the end, God’s power and God’s judgment are ultimate. As Ghandi says – every oppressor dies someday. Continue reading “room for humans :: the words of God”

a new low for the species :: Evian Atomizer :: (re)made in whose image?

I hate to give it attention (even disdain is a form of advertisement), but I came across a product so mindless today that I’m having trouble imagining the person who would actually spend $15.50 on something so inane. After we tried an odor-less, color-less free sample, the friend I was with captured it in a single phrase: “For people with more money than brains.” In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only possible use for this product is to show other people just how much money you have to waste on something that you can get elsewhere for free.

So what is the offending product?

In a double lined, pressure treated, painted, labeled, aluminum aerosol can sitting in a prominent cardboard and plastic display (featuring a beautiful young woman who is obviously deriving meaning and purpose in life from her use of the product), is well… um… water. Continue reading “a new low for the species :: Evian Atomizer :: (re)made in whose image?”

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.”

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”

the pope and the populace :: liberation in South America

Of some relevance to the continuing conversation about theology and justice are the following: James K. Smith reacts to a NY Times article

I should probably offer my two cents…(hopefully it’s worth that)…

1. I’m by and large ignorant of the history of the relationship between Benedict (Ratzinger) and the liberation theologians of S. America – I know the basic outline, and not much more. So I’m hesitant to say much.

2. I’ll defend the prerogative of the church to discipline theologians whose teachings contradict the church’s gospel. Theologians are the servants of the church, not its masters.

3. I’ll adamantly insist that by and large, the global church has made invisible its one-ness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity insofar as it has been unconcerned (at least in practice) with the plight of the poorest and most marginalized of our brothers and sisters. As Bonhoeffer says, “this invisibility is killing us!” Continue reading “the pope and the populace :: liberation in South America”

creeds and criticism :: hellfire and history (part I)

“I reject any creed that would send the Dalai Lama to hell.” I watched an author of fiction (one I’m quite fond of) offer this phrase at a book release last year. As he spoke, the vast majority of receptive ears were attached to heads nodding in agreement and righteous indignation.

Inner monologue: “Who could possibly be so stupid as to send the Dalai Lama to hell? What group of people could possibly hold a set of beliefs that would send such a man to such a place? They must be ridiculous! The Apostles creed is bunk! We’d be better off if it were never repeated again!”

So… wouldn’t we as a species make it a few steps further along our evolutionary journey if we dropped the self-righteous possession of truth in pretty little formulas? Weren’t the creeds the attempt of the powerful majority in the early church to subjugate all dissenting opinions? Who in their right mind would want to follow such a legacy? Continue reading “creeds and criticism :: hellfire and history (part I)”