Drew Transdisciplinary Theology Conference: Divinanimality

I’ve spent the weekend at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey at the annual Transdisciplinary Theology Conference. This year’s theme is “Divinanimality: Creaturely Theology.” As with other smaller conferences with a tightly focused theme that I’ve attended, this has been a really fantastic opportunity to connect with people whose professional interests and methods are very close to my own, and scholars whose work I encounter often. I enjoy these so much more than the mega-circus of the AAR!

I’m very grateful for all the work that students and faculty have done to make this a fantastic conference. The organizers also arranged for the student papers to be live-streamed, and archives of those video feeds are still available. So, if you are interested in hearing my paper (“The Logos of God and the End of Man: Animality as Light and Life”) or excellent papers from Erika Murphy and Terra Rowe, then here they are! My paper begins at about 38 minutes in. Other student papers are also available if you search “DrewTTC” on the site.

Apologies and hand-wringing are certainly appropriate for the paucity of posts here lately, but drama about that sort of thing doesn’t usually mean that more posts are on the way. I can’t promise that it will get a lot better, but I’ll post some news here and again for the few hopeful souls that pop by.

A Hymn for Holy Week

Go to Dark Gethsemane

Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s pow’r

your Redeemer’s conflict see. Watch with him one bitter hour;

turn not from his griefs away; learn from Jesus Christ to pray.

Follow to the judgment hall, view the Lord of life arraigned;

oh, the wormwood and the gall! Oh, the pangs his soul sustained!

Shun no suff’ring, shame, or loss; learn from him to bear the cross.

Calv’ry’s mournful mountain climb; there, adoring at his feet,

mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete.

“It is finished!” hear him cry; learn from Jesus Christ to die.

Early hasten to the tomb where they laid his breathless clay;

all is solitude and gloom. Who has taken him away?

Christ is ris’n! He meets our eyes. Savior, teach us so to rise.

— James Montgomery

Haiti :: On the Ground

Here is a post from a friend of mine from Regent who is living in Haiti. Corrigan managed to get a few minutes free to tell a bit of his story, and has concrete advice for how to help.

I’d only reiterate his plea to donate to organizations and churches that are already local (and have been for sometime), the Red Cross and other big groups may be helpful in the long run, but right now. it’s best to channel things through people already on the ground.

free market as religion :: economics as theology

“Our present economic system should also be understood as our religion, because it has come to fulfill a religious function for us. The discipline of economics is less a science than the theology of that religion, and its god, the Market, has become a vicious circle of ever-increasing production and consumption by pretending to offer a secular salvation. The collapse of communism makes it more apparent that the Market is becoming the first truly world religion, binding all corners of the globe into a worldview and set of values whose religious role we overlook only because we insist on seeing them as ‘secular.’” (15)

It is important to pay attention to the conceptual employment of both “secularity” and “religion.” Both concepts have shifted their content so that they demarcate autonomous spheres of ethical thinking. “Religion” is an abstract term that enables the speaker to lump incredibly diverse worldviews together in a single term, and generally, to contrast them to something else. “Religion” is the corral which contains a certain motley collection of worldviews in order to open space for the “secular.” The “secular” on the other hand is the “real” world in which thought is reduced to basic material and utilitarian terms, without the distraction of (private) values, beliefs, or metaphysical constraints. Past traditions (with their encumbering and superstitious restrictions) and any sense of the intrinsic importance of wild beauty or freedom are “external” considerations, things for other people to worry about in private—after all we live in the real world, the public sphere. 

“Although it may offend our vanity, it is somewhat ludicrous to think of conventional religious institutions as we know them today serving a significant role in solving the environmental crisis. Their more immediate problem is whether they, like the rain forests we anxiously monitor, will survive in any recognizable form the onslaught of this new religion.” (15) 

In exchange for a deeply grounded identity and a place in the ecological whole of the planet, we receive the consumer frills of a culture burning all the world’s candles at both ends. This “plenty” for which we endlessly labor is, supposedly, heaven. Or at least a third-rate knock off. Because perhaps, in the end, this is the heaven we’ve been imagining since Dante—divorced from the world that we know, from rocks, trees, lions and lambs. The (unreachable, but always “close”) heaven of the Market is that insipid climate-controlled cloud where nothing interesting ever happens because we’ve finally isolated ourselves from all of nature’s unpredictability (btw, there’s harp music for $2, if that’s your thing). 

“Market capitalism began as, and may still be understood as, a form of salvation religion: dissatisfied with the world as it is and seeking to inject a new promise into it, motivated (and justifying itself) by faith in the grace of profit and concerned to perpetuate that grace, with a missionary zeal to expand and reorder (rationalize) the economic system [where its ‘good news’ has not yet reached].” (19)

The myth of “secularity” is that a society can exist without some fundamentally orienting value distinctions (even a plurality), without some basic ordering of perception, and interaction with, the world. As it turns out, it cannot—the basic order appears implicitly and unacknowledged rather than consciously. When the free market is understood as the source of these fundamental value distinctions, even though it is supposedly “secular,” one recognizes its religious function in our lives. One corollary of this is that the “Separation of Church and State” is revealed to be a myth—without even entering into a debate about evolution or prayer in schools. Our “State” has a deeply vested interest in the national Establishment faith, the progress of the market. 

“Until the last few centuries there has been little genuine distinction between church and state, between sacred authority and secular power, and that cozy relationship continues today: far from maintaining an effective regulatory or even neutral position, the U.S. government has become the most powerful proponent of the religion of market capitalism as the way to live, and indeed it may have little choice insofar as it is now a pimp dependent upon skimming the cream of market profits.” (21) 

The most pressing theological tasks of the present include “publicly” exposing the (invisibly) idolatrous invasions of the market into the life and well-being of the planet; and narrating a tradition with a strong sense of identity rooted in a deep and complex history—a community with open boundaries and a promiscuous invitation.

 

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All quotes from:

Loy, David. “The Religion of the Market.” In Visions of a New Earth: Religious Perspectives on Population, Consumption, and Ecology, 15-28 Ed. Harold Coward and Daniel Maguire. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000.

seven hundred billion

“Decisions must be judged in light of what they do for the poor, what they do to the poor, and what they enable the poor to do for themselves. The fundamental moral criterion for all economic decisions, policies, and institutions is this: They must be at the service of all people, especially the poor.”

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National Conference of Catholic Bishops 1986, §24.

Tertullian on military service :: Christ among the barbarians

Tertullian
Tertullian

“To begin with the real ground of the military crown, I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians. What sense is there in discussing the merely accidental, when that on which it rests is to be condemned? Do we believe it lawful for a human oath to be superadded to one divine, for a man to come under promise to another master after Christ, and to abjure father, mother, and all nearest kinsfolk, whom even the law has commanded us to honour and love next to God Himself, to whom the gospel, too, holding them only of less account than Christ, has in like manner rendered honour? Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs? Shall he, forsooth, either keep watch-service for others more than for Christ, or shall he do it on the Lord’s day, when he does not even do it for Christ Himself? And shall he keep guard before the temples which he has renounced? And shall he take a meal where the apostle has forbidden him? And shall he diligently protect by night those whom in the day-time he has put to flight by his exorcisms, leaning and resting on the spear the while with which Christ’s side was pierced? Shall he carry a flag, too, hostile to Christ?…Is the laurel of the triumph made of leaves, or of corpses? Is it adorned with ribbons, or with tombs? Is it bedewed with ointments, or with the tears of wives and mothers? It may be of some Christians too; for Christ is also among the barbarians.”

 

Tertullian is arguing in support of a Christian soldier who refused to put on the laurel crown given to his company after a military victory. Wearing the laurel crown had some connotations of devotion to the civic deities of the Empire and was against the practice of the North African Christian community. The crown itself, however, is not the major issue in Tertullian’s mind as he is writing. He is more concerned with the unity of the church’s witness to the surrounding culture than with buttressing any legalism. At least some of the Christians of Carthage were beginning to question whether it was really a grave matter to participate in some aspects of Roman civic religion. Tertullian’s answer refuses to honor the legitimacy of the question about precisely where to draw the line of idolatry. Not only does he question the crown, he questions the actions that lead to being rewarded and recognized as a servant of the Empire.  In this context, he offers a powerful argument against Christian participation in the military—Christ is also among the barbarians!

As much as Tertullian wants to distinguish “Athens” and “Jerusalem,” it isn’t because he’s consigned Athens to eternal destruction. As he writes in polished Latin, drawing on the best of the philosophical and rhetorical traditions of his day, Tertullian is concerned that Christ should be honored everywhere that he may be found—and not at the point of the world’s sword.

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Excerpted from De Corona, chapters 11 and 12.